From living through the Second World War to becoming Citizen of the Year in a small town far from her native England, June Keddie has lived an eventful life, full of happiness, success, laughter and loss.
Keddie, 93, is originally from Byfleet, Surrey, England, and was just 10 years old when the Second World War started. As a young child, she saw it all unfold, the planes, the Germans, the panic and the air raid shelters. But most importantly, the good looking soldiers.
“We had lots of troops in the village, which was exciting for a 16-year-old girl,” Keddie chuckled. “I was a young girl and I was happy to see the soldiers, of course. My friend and I went on dates with soldiers.”
Keddie’s father was in the Air Force during the war, and handed her mother the responsibility of keeping them safe. Keddie and her mother used to stay at their friend’s air raid shelter every night, taking blankets and pillows to keep them warm through the night.
“We used to have the school lesson in the air raid shelter,” Keddie said as she remembered the historic time. “I was scared stiff but a young girl lived opposite me got killed, she was only 17 and she was killed. It was very sad. That was the first casualty that we we really had there and then the bombs started coming every night when it was the Battle of Britain.”
The war did not prevent Keddie from living her teenage years, within reason and direction from her mother. She and her friend used to go to the dances at the village hall. But when they heard the sirens, they had to go home and stay at the air raid shelters.
One time, Keddie had been spotted with a soldier a few years older than her by her mother. Strict in nature, her mother came trotting down the road to take her home.
“She said to the soldier this girl is only 16,” Keddie said. “He said ‘ma’am, I’m just 18.’ She said I’m sorry you’re in the army and you’re only 18, but I’m taking my daughter and we’re going home.”
The 18-year-old soldier disappeared and Keddie never saw him again. But she did not give up on finding love, and went out with another boy who lived across the street from them.
“But my mother chased him off,” Keddie chuckled. She didn’t meet the love of her life, Jim, until she attended a friend’s wedding.
“I was fascinated because he was a soldier,” Keddie said. “A year later, we got married and we lived in England for a while and came to Canada and lived in Toronto for seven years. He worked at the prison and came to Fort Frances and I followed him. I had my daughter [Geraldine] with me and had Michael here.”
The Keddies first moved to Toronto where Jim worked as a prison guard. In 1964, the family moved to Fort Frances where Jim served as the superintendent at the local jail. It was also the time June began volunteering her time to help the community.
“[Jim] was in the army for 13 years when we decided to come to Canada. We lived at the jail for a while, which made everybody laugh,” she said. “There was a little house attached to the jail. It is not there anymore.”
June and Jim had two children: Geraldine and Michael. Geraldine now lives with her husband in Arizona. Michael passed away in 1979, and Jim passed away in 2019.
Despite their different personalities, June and Jim loved each other, and each brought unique traits to the household.
“He was quiet. I was noisy,” she chuckled. “We had a good time when he was in the army. When we got married, all the pipe bands came to the wedding. They played at Buckingham Palace twice when he was in the band. He played before the Queen. They used to have dances for the staff and he used to go to that, not when he was married, though, thank goodness.”
Keddie volunteered at the hospital for 20 years, helping with the Luncheon of Hope and fundraising. She also joined St. John’s Anglican Church Guild and the Canadian Cancer Society. She particularly enjoyed volunteering at the chemotherapy department.
“I volunteered at the hospital for 20 years and I enjoyed it very much. They called me when I was in England and told me I was nominated for Citizen of the Year in 2006. I then came home and did all the things that a citizen does. I miss that, but I’m old now and get aches and pains. I’ve had a good life, really.”
June and Jim also were involved with the Fort Frances Retarded Association to help her son, Michael, decrease the stigma and raise awareness.
Keddie said her happiest moment right now is when she opens the door and sees that her friends came to visit. Her one piece of advice to everyone is to be friendly.
“Be friendly and not to think you’re more important than they are,” Keddie said. “They are just as good as you are. You should get out and help anybody that needs help, especially now. We’re going through tough times. We should help one another and not be against people.”